March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

NC School Board to Reconsider Ban on Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man’

The Randolph County (NC) Board of Education is reconsidering its recent ban of Ralph Ellison’s classic novel Invisible Man (Random House, 1952) from its school libraries, Asheboro’s local newspaper The Courier-Tribune reports. The board voted 5-2 last week to remove the book from school library shelves, but members have agreed to hold a special meeting on Wednesday, September 25, to reconsider the book’s status.

Although a reason for the reconsideration has not been given, the removal was met with letters of protest from local, state, and national advocates, and the story was reported in at least one European media outlet, according to the The Courier-Tribune. The newspaper also reports that free copies of the book are being made available to high school students in the county thanks to the efforts of a former Randolph County resident, who secured a donation from publisher Vintage Books, a division of Random House.

Notably, the book’s removal came just days before this week’s celebration of Banned Books Week by the American Library Association and other groups advocating for the freedom to read.

The bestselling Invisible Man describes the experience of the unnamed narrator’s life growing up in a black community in the South and the dramatic turns his life takes after moving to New York. It is widely hailed as a masterpiece of American literature for its exploration of racism and bigotry. It was one of three books from which Randleman High School juniors could choose for summer reading for the 2013–2014 school year, along with John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me and Nella Larsen’s Passing.

Last week’s vote, which removed all copies of the book from school libraries, came in response to a Randleman High School parent’s complaint about the book, and overrode the recommendations of committees at both the school and district levels that it not be removed.

Karyn M. Peterson About Karyn M. Peterson

Karyn M. Peterson ( is a former News Editor ofSLJ.

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  1. It is so sad when a single voice ( the objecting parent’s) gets to decide what will be read. or not, by the rest of us. My YA novel won over a dozen book awards, and yet a parent in a smaller community objected to the contents of a short (3 pages) scene and requested that the book be removed from the high school’s library. Thankfully, reason ruled and the board rejected her demand. The case above is especially irritating, since there was apparently no reason provided for Invisible Man’s removal. Censorship at its worst.

  2. It should be noted that great American novels [as well a great Russian or French or etc., etc… novels] are more than often concerned with complex, quite disturbing, and provocative issues. If every book was simply another Hardy Boys Mystery [a delightful series BTW] then Norman Rockwell [certainly one of our finest dauber/illustrators] would be the only American painter.

    So, some nice mom in Asheboro, NC isn’t entirely comfortable with the more gruesome aspects of Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man”. Okay, I can certainly understand that but we all must realize the irony of the fact that it is this very “discomfort” that Mr. Ellison is in many ways attempting to evoke in the reader. He wasn’t writing a Harlequin Romance. He was divulging to a larger American audience a real, bitter, and darkly cloaked verity of which they had little knowledge.

    “Invisible Man” is a profound and, yes, unsettling work of art. It will continue to offend and rattle moms and school board members for decades to come. But please, don’t miss the forest for the trees.
    All the nudes displayed at the North Carolina Museum of Art out on Blue Ridge Rd can’t be removed because mom is offended.

    Imagine a world where the merit and meaning of important literary art and its significance is left to one credulous, unread mom and five blockheaded school board members from Asheboro, NC to adjudicate.

    ‘Invisible Man’ has “no literary value”? Come on folks; get real.